New research shows that sprinters are faster than the rest of us because their bones are actually different from non-athletes. Using ultrasound imaging, it was found that sprinters aren’t just faster than the rest of us – their bones are actually different from non-athletes.
The recent findings revealed that sprinters had significantly longer bones in their forefeet – 6.2 percent longer than non-sprinters. They found that their Achilles’ tendons were also 12 percent shorter than non-sprinters. It is still unclear if these changes occur due to long periods of training or potential athletes are simply born with it. But the changes deliver a clear advantage to sprinters, allowing them to generate greater force over a longer time while running.
Stephen Piazza, associate professor of kinesiology at the Penn State University spoke about the research. He said, “We have made the most direct measurement possible of leverage in the Achilles tendon and have found that the sprinters that we conducted the study on having shorter lever arms or reduced leverage for pushing their bodies off the ground.” Co-author of Piazza’s study and graduate student of kinesiology, Sabrina Lee also said “The shorter Achilles tendon lever arms and the longer toe bones permit sprinters to generate a far greater force of contact between the foot and the ground. This also enables them with the ability to maintain this force for a longer time, thus providing them with the advantage with the sprinter-like feet.”
The research was conducted on two groups of eight males, for a total of 16 people. The first group comprised of sprinters who were involved in regular sprint training and the second group consisted of individuals of the same height, who had never undergone any sprint training. MRI images were then taken of the right foot and ankle of each of the subjects.
In addition to imaging the feet and ankles of the group of sprinters and non-sprinters, the scientists also developed a simple simulation model to understand the influence of the foot and ankle dimensions on the muscle contributions to propel it forward at various speeds. They found that longer forefeet and smaller Achilles tendon lever arms put more pressure on the calf muscles, allowing them to do more work. This makes it possible for the sudden burst of acceleration that occurs at the start of the sprint race.
Though these results gave the researchers an insight on whether a person has the potential to be a sprinter, other factors such as body type, the dimensions of the limbs and the presence of fast-twitch fibers are also important to determine the future of the possible candidate in the world of sprinting.